OLPC Mali: Village Teachers Learn to Use the XO

When we decided to send 30 XO laptops to the village of Quessoborgo in Mali we were confident that the children would love the laptops, but the teachers were another story. While we worked with the principal of the Primary School Of Ntentou in our plan to donate the laptops, we were aware of the fact that many of the 3rd and 4th grade teachers had never used a laptop before. Former LAPTOP employee Salimata Fandjalan Bangoura is the project manager for OLPC Mali and is working with the teachers to integrate the OLPC XOs into their curricula. The following are excerpts from Sali’s journal for the first two weeks of the program. During these weeks, she trained the teachers and volunteers to use the XO laptop and its open-source Sugar operating system.

Week 1: July 14-18

The OLPC Summer Camp Program began with the training of two teachers, four volunteers, and the school director, none of whom had used a computer before. We began with an introduction to OLPC, its mission, vision and also what OLPC Mali plans to achieve.

I explained that this is an educational project that needs heavy community and parental support to ensure its success. Though the teachers, and volunteers do not get paid, they all seemed more than willing to participate and invest their time.

I brought with me a Dell Inspiron laptop running Microsoft Windows XP, a Macbook running Apple’s OS X Leopard and an OLPC XO running its open-source Sugar operating system. These, I figured, would serve as different examples of the types of computers and operating systems that are available.

I started our tutorial with an introduction to computer terms such as keyboard, mouse, cursor, and screen. I gave a brief lecture about the Internet and its capabilities. I then gave everyone a getting started guide to read overnight so they could have an idea of what the XO was.

That night, I allowed them to each take one XO home. I didn’t expect them, however, to have an event at the home of a teacher who wasn’t involved in the project. Most of them met there to learn, explore, and teach others about the XO. They even had a music-making contest to determine who would make the best compilation using one of the TamTam suites (TamTam Jam, Mini, Synthlab, etc.)

After a day of basic information on computer use, it was time to delve into the XO, its software, and its hardware. We touched base on the basic features of the XO, the programs that are available, their uses and purposes, and how to connect to the Internet and to mesh networks.

After the basic intro, we did a presentation on how to turn the computer on and off, how to restart, and how to open and close programs. To my dismay, the computers we received were all in English and, when we tried to change the user interface to French, it didn’t completely change everything into French. I had to constantly translate words and symbols from English to French, but it was fun because the teachers and volunteers were inspired to speak the English language and they saw this as an opportunity to pick up some words in English.

We then explored the keyboard and the symbols and shortcuts to the home view, neighborhood and group view as well as the resume activity. We covered all the keys on the top of the keyboard, including the volume and brightness controls. We decided on the programs that would be used most often in the classroom. They were the Write, Chat, Record, Calculate, TamTam suite and Etoys applications.

The very first program that we experimented with was Write. We wanted the teachers to have a good understanding of the keyboard, what typing is, and how one can write thoughts down on a computer.

It was a blast for me to experience the first couple of days. Some teachers squealed in glee or screamed because they were so amazed by things. This took some getting used to on my part. A grown man screaming in excitement and throwing his hands up in the air, or pulling at his hair is not something you see everyday with computer use.

It took us a total of four days to get through the Write activity, because the teachers wanted to know it inside and out. I taught them everything: selecting text, moving down to a line by hitting Enter, copying and pasting using the mouse as well as Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V, changing the font and style of the document, underlining, and even bolding and italicizing words.

The first day of training we had two teachers, four volunteers, and the school director (principal). The second day, we had three teachers and five volunteers. And on the third day, we had two more people join. The numbers kept growing by the day, because more people heard about the project and saw it as a chance to learn about computers and actually experiment with one.

We had planned to go over the other activities we designated as “important” to know, throughout the week, but we spent 4 out of 5 days going over the Write activity.

Week 2: July 21-25

By the beginning of the second week, all the teachers, volunteers, and other participants felt very comfortable using the XO. They felt more knowledgeable and could maneuver through the Sugar operating system with ease. They could write and format the documents, create and manage tables, chat amongst themselves with the mesh network, share activities and, most importantly, teach others how to do it all.

During this week we covered the Chat, Record, Calculate, and Etoys programs. Unfortunately I was absent for about three days out of the week, because I was traveling around looking for support and trying to figure out when our shipment of 30 XOs was going to arrive.

I met Rebecca Rhodes from the Education Development Center (EDC) on Monday. She is working on a radio program, which will put radios in all the classrooms of Mali that will help teachers plan their lessons. Each teacher will have a radio in the classroom and will listen to instructions through it. The EDC, in conjunction with USAID who is funding the program, is open to testing other technological devices that could be used in the classroom as tools to enhance the learning process for both students and teachers. They are very open to the idea of the OLPC XO, but cannot make any decisions until the end of August, which is around the same time that our summer program ends.

On Thursday July 24th, I received a call from UPS that the 30 XOs had arrived just in time for the program’s third week and in time to start introducing them to the children.

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  1. Anthony Says:

    It’s so nice to get to read XOs in practice. Please keep us posted!

  2. Ilham Kurnia Says:

    Interesting read. I particularly like the following parts.

    “I had to constantly translate words and symbols from English to French, but it was fun because the teachers and volunteers were inspired to speak the English language and they saw this as an opportunity to pick up some words in English.”

    “A grown man screaming in excitement and throwing his hands up in the air, or pulling at his hair is not something you see everyday with computer use.”

  3. Tammah Says:

    Having just returned from several wonderful days in Mali, the most impactful being the time my husband and I spent in Deguela, a Mali village; I am very interested in pursuing the means of getting these computers to their many students.
    Any suggestions of how to go about this? ANy and all would be greatly appreciated.

    We live in San DIego, California

  4. Don Says:

    Be great to learn how Bambara and other Malian national languages figure on the XO’s (fonts, keyboard layouts, and content). A lot of exciting things can be done for learning in all languages.

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